Vicki McCracken, the new director of Washington State University Extension, promises to improve the connection between the university and the farmers it serves.
“I intend to listen a lot and help provide leadership and guidance that will help farmers of all scales,” McCracken told the Capital Press. “I want farmers to think extension links them to resources within the university, but is also a resource on its own.”
Many extension faculty members are conducting their own research, as well as providing a direct link between farmers and other WSU researchers, she said.
“I’ve always been passionate about applications of knowledge,” McCracken said. “To me, extension is, what’s even applied research without the ability of getting it effectively in the hands of the individuals who can use that information?”
McCracken begins her new position Jan. 1. She will be an associate dean in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.
“I was thinking about, ‘What had I not done in my career that I was truly passionate about?’” McCracken said of what drew her to the position. “I am excited about the ability to have extension as not separate from the college, but fully integrated and a full player in the university’s view.”
McCracken said her initial priorities are filling vacant positions and finding places to eliminate possible duplication. She sees opportunities to connect with other CAHNRS agriculture and natural resources, youth and family and community and economic development programs.
McCracken and CAHNRS Dean André Wright’s goals include connecting extension and CAHNRS with WSU’s new Elson Floyd College of Medicine. McCracken points to existing agricultural research, such as how management of soil nutrients impacts the healthfulness of a food product.
Part of the medical school’s “big picture” goal is to train students who will do their residencies or work in small communities, she said.
“These communities are for the most part rural, agricultural-based communities,” McCracken said.
McCracken has worked at WSU since 1984. Her previous positions include working as associate director of WSU’s Agricultural Research Center from 1994 to 1998. She received her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural economics at Purdue University. She studied economics and human nutrition as an undergraduate.
“I don’t come from an agricultural background, but my last 35 years has truly been in agriculture,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in doing something that helped solve problems.”
She and her husband, WSU soil science professor Bill Pan, own 20 acres in Pullman and work with a local farmer to raise canola, chickpeas and wheat.
McCracken will work half-time in the extension position at first, maintaining a half-time position as chair of WSU’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles, also in CAHNRS, to allow the department to find a replacement. She will move to the Extension position full-time June 1. Currently, she splits her time between the apparel department and as a professor in WSU’s School of Economic Sciences. She will leave the economics position in January.